Thomas Rowley & Honora Cunniffe

Thomas Rowley was born around 1820 or 1830 somewhere in the vicinity of Killasser, a small village in County Mayo in Ireland. According to the 1841 Irish census, Many Irish census records were destroyed in a fire in 1922, but some small sections survive. his father’s name was Anthony and his mother’s name was Mary. Surviving census data also reports that they were living in a townland called Cartron at the time.

Griffith’s Valuation, Thomas Rowley in Griffith’s Valuation, 1857Thomas Rowley in Griffith’s Valuation, 1857. a large-scale land survey of Irish properties conducted in the 1850s and 60s, lists Thomas’s father Anthony in Cartron in 1857 with about two dozen people, including a “Martin Rowley,” a “Michael Rowley,” and a “James Rowley.” I think these three could have been Thomas’s siblings, but they could also have been uncles or even cousins. A “Thomas Rowley” is listed on the same survey in a townland called Cloonacannana, about three miles away; this could be him, or it could be another relative.

Honora Cunniffe was born in about 1832 in County Mayo or in nearby County Sligo, There is a village just south of Swinford called Kinaffe, but this could be a coincidence. and her father’s name might have been James or John. Local records spell her name in many ways, including “Honnor McNuff,” “Honoria Cunniffe,” “Honor Cunruff,” “Honor McKena,” “Honor McNiffe,” “Nora McKenniffe,” and “Honor Caniff.” I suspect these variant spellings are a consequence of her illiteracy. In 1901 and 1911, Thomas and Honora would tell census takers that they could not read or write, although they spoke both English and Irish.

Thomas and Honora’s childhood and early adulthood coincided with the Great Potato Famine of 1845–1849, a major turning point in Irish history. During this time, the destruction of the country’s potato crop caused widespread starvation, and it’s estimated that one million people either starved to death or succumbed to disease. This, combined with mass emigration, caused Ireland’s population to drop by 20%–25% and permanently altered the island’s culture and demographics.

Thomas and Honora must have met in the region in the 1850s, but it’s impossible to know exactly where or in what circumstances. They married on February 15, 1858 in Kilmacteige, a village in County Sligo. Thomas was about 29 years old, and Honora was about 26.

Thomas and Honora’s wedding record, February 15, 1858. Thomas and Honora's wedding record, February 15, 1858

They would go on to have at least six surviving children:

Between 1862 and 1911, the name “Thomas Rowley” appears about thirty times in the Swinford region’s court records. However, it’s important to note that Thomas Rowley, husband of Honora Cunniffe, was not the only “Thomas Rowley” in the region; there were at least five people named “Thomas Rowley” in the area—perhaps even more. Thomas had a second cousin Thomas (born 1852), a nephew Thomas (born 1853), a son Thomas (born 1870), and a grandson Thomas (born ca. 1896). It’s unlikely that all thirty of these records refer to the same person, but I’ve decided to include some here because they paint a colorful picture of the Rowley family’s life in County Mayo.

For example: In February 1863, a “Thomas Rowley” and a “Michael Rowley” of Cloonacannana sued a man named Pat Price claiming that he “did violently assault [them] the night of Sunday 15 February last on the public road at Rathscanlan.”

Listed immediately below is another case involving Thomas Rowley of Cloonacananna, this time suing Thomas Price, Pat Price, two women named Mary Price(?), Bridget O’Brian, John Higgins, and James Higgins (all from Ballydrum) claiming that the “defendants did come to [his] house in a riotous manner and busting his door with force the night of Sunday 15 February last and threatening him with violence at Cloonacananna.”

Then, immediately below that, there’s a third case—this time a “John Rowley” suing an “Owen Rowley” claiming that the “defendant did violently assault [him] the night of Friday the 13 February last at Swinford.”

“Thomas Rowley” and others in a court record, February 1863. "Thomas Rowley" and others in a court record, February 1863.

The saga continues in the next pages, where Pat Price counter-sues Michael and Thomas claiming “that defendants did violently assault [him] the night of Sunday the 15 February last at the Public Road at Rathscanlan.” He goes on to sue Owen Rowley, Martin Rowley, Margaret Rowley, Sibby Rowley, and Michael Rowley, claiming they assaulted him on February 15 at Cloonacananna.

“Thomas Rowley” and others in a court record, February 1863 again. "Thomas Rowley" and others in a court record, again in February 1863.

Not all of these cases are so dramatic, however. In March 1867, a “Thomas Rowley of Cloonacananna” was fined for having a dog without a license, and in December 1873, James Devany of Esker sued Thomas because Thomas’s cows allegedly trampled on James’s turnips at Rathscanlan.

Thomas Rowley of Cloonacananna in a court record. “Defendant’s [six?] cows trampled on complainant’s turnips at Rathscanlan in said county on the 17th November 1873.” A similar event also appears to have happened on November 20. "Thomas Rowley of Cloonacananna" in a court record, December 1873.

It’s worth reiterating that “Thomas Rowley of Cloonacananna” is likely a different person from Thomas Rowley, husband of Honora Cunniffe (who I suspect might be more accurately described as “Thomas Rowley of Cartron”).

It’s also worth pointing out that life in County Mayo was difficult, as indicated by a letter published in a local newspaper:

Killasser, 7th January 1905

[…] In one of the most distant houses in Cartron—John Rowley’s—I find that they have no edible food for father, mother, and six children[.] Beside that house you will find Thomas Rowley and his wife, both of whom are in need of relief very much[.] The first is a very bad case, and I would ask you to relieve them as early as possible[.] You might also see Michael Kneafsey, junr, and his children […] also the cases of Mrs McCann, junr, Rubble, and the wife and children of John McHugh, Dereen[.]

Western People (Ballina, County Mayo), January 14, 1905

Thomas died in about 1914 in Killasser parish when he was about 85. Honora died a few years later on October 12, 1917 when she was about 81.

Further reading

Thomas Rowley’s and Honora Cunniffe’s entries on my Ancestry.com tree (requires a subscription). Additional sources, like more Petty Court records and some of Thomas and Honora’s children’s baptism records, are visible here.

Thomas Rowley’s and Honora Cunniffe’s pages on FamilySearch (requires a free account).

Sources

The National Archives of Ireland, “History of Irish census records.” Link

Ancestry.com. Web: Ireland, Census Search Forms 1841, 1851 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: 1841/1851 Census Search Forms. The National Archives of Ireland. Link (requires subscription)

Heritage World Family History Services. Ireland, Griffith’s Valuation, 1847–1864 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Original data: General Valuation of Ireland. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Microforms Ltd., 1978. National Archives, Dublin and Public Record Office, Belfast. Link (requires subscription)

Ancestry.com. Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655–1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 04226 / 10. Link (requires subscription)

Ancestry.com. Ireland, Select Catholic Marriage Registers, 1778–1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Celtic Catholic Registers. Digitized images. Dublin, Ireland: E-Celtic, Limited. Link (requires subscription)

“Ireland Births and Baptisms, 1620-1881”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FR7M-R4Z : 15 February 2020), Thomas Rowley in entry for Thomas Rowley, 1870.

“Ireland Civil Registration, 1845-1913,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QPDS-BNKR : 30 January 2020), Thomas Rowley in entry for Thomas Rowley, 1 Apr 1870; Birth; Swineford, County Mayo, Ireland; citing General Register Office, Southern Ireland; FHL microfilm.

Ancestry.com. Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655–1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 04223 / 06. Link (requires subscription)

Ancestry.com. Ireland, Petty Session Court Registers, 1818–1919 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2020. The National Archives of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; CSPS 1/8816-90020. Link 1 Link 2 Link 3 Link 4 (require subscription)

Ancestry.com. Web: Ireland, Census, 1901 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: Census of Ireland 1901/1911. The National Archives of Ireland. Class: RG14. Link (requires subscription)

Untitled letter, Western People, January 14, 1905. Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland.

Ancestry.com. Web: Ireland, Census, 1911 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: Census of Ireland 1901/1911. The National Archives of Ireland. Class: RG14. Link (requires subscription)